The Barn Players Theatre was founded in 1955 and was originally located at a renovated barn at the Woolf Farm near 83rd in Mission Road in Prairie Village. In 1971 the theater’s building was sold to make way for commercial development and a new home was found at The Manor Barn at Metcalf and 91st. However, this location turned out to be only an interim home and in 1972 Johnson County Community College became our home for the next 18 years. As the community college grew, in 1990 we were again without a home. For the next 12 years, our performances were staged at various venues, including Shawnee Mission High Schools, the Old Shawnee Town Hall, the Shawnee Civic Center, and the Roeland Park Community Center. In 2004, thanks to the help of the NE Johnson County Chamber of Commerce, we moved to our current location at 6219 Martway in Mission, Kansas. The Chamber believed that the presence of a theatre in Mission and the North East Johnson County area would improve the quality of life for the residents and bring additional patrons to the area. In 2006, the Credit Union of Johnson County (now Mainstreet Credit Union) purchased the land and building where we are located. The credit union also recognized the value of the arts to a community and agreed to partner with us for continued use of the building. In 2008, we signed a long-term lease agreement with the credit union.
Over the last four years, The Barn has re-branded itself, become more strategic in choosing board members, play selection and in setting goals for performance quality and audience numbers. Since 2010, audition numbers have increased 25%, season tickets patrons have tripled and the average audience per performance has gone from 82 to 102. All of these metrics relate to the consistent quality seen on The Barn stage as well as the patrons' theater-going experience. The Barn's significant improvement in these areas was recognized by being voted as the Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year in 2015.
Top Accomplishments for 2015:
The Barn, in its 60th season, is a different animal than it was in its humble beginning in an un-air conditioned barn at 83rd and Mission Road. We have established ourselves as both a proving ground for young actors where experience, confidence and connections can be made as well as a place where talented individuals can share their passion with the performing arts with their community. So many of our successes and challenges relate to the changed world we live in. Our reputation for choosing gutsy and ambitious productions could only be possible through our commitment to diversity (race, age, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) and continually improving our physical space, making the challenging productions of the 21st century possible. Many of our board members have been involved with theater for their entire lives. Even those of us who wouldn’t step foot on a stage, are passionate about theater. My family in particular has found fulfillment through theater. We were instrumental in the founding of Camellot Academy in 1967 where I was a teacher and then president for ten years. But my story of passion for the theater is not unique to our Board. We have actors, directors and drama teachers on our board; and one board member is a successful playwright. Despite our diverse backgrounds, we come to the board with the love of all things theater related, especially Kansas City theater.
This program fosters the growth and development of local playwrights, new directors and actors looking to stretch their abilities. Submissions are judged blindly by a committee consisting of board members and possibly local directors and actors. The 6X10 Festival runs for one weekend (3 performances) in December.
One of the challenges a community theater like The Barn faces is the sad fact that the phrase “community theater” is used as a punchline, or worse, a punching bag. Even those who support drama programs in schools, sometimes don’t recognize the importance of supporting their local community theaters. The American Association of Community Theaters, of which The Barn is a member, represents the interests of more than 7000 theaters across the US and reports that there are more than 1.5 million volunteers involved in more than 46,000 annual productions reaching an audience of 86 million. These numbers alone show the significance of community theater throughout the United States. While the majority of the participants in community theater never seek a professional theater career, even for them, theater is not just a hobby but a passion. The Barn’s mission statement directly addresses this passion and our role in the community: “The Barn Players create theatre for the community by the community which nurtures theatre artists in practicing their craft.” The impact of being involved in community theater goes well beyond our own productions. I’ve yet to meet one of our actors, directors, musicians, volunteers, or one of our patrons who doesn’t also buy tickets at local professional theaters, go to see Broadway shows, and/or see national tours. They bring their spouses, children, friends and others of significance to our shows and these others in support of the theater community as a whole. Another significant factor in favor of funding community theater, is the fact that most professional actors got their start on a community stage somewhere. Indeed, The Barn has its share of well-known alumni. Many people who have appeared in productions throughout our history have gone on to greater fame on stage, screen and television. Among these are: Academy Award-winner Chris Cooper, Kansas City actors Jim Birdsall, Dodie Brown, Melinda McCrary and Cathy Barnett, Phillip Fiorini, John Rensenhouse (“The Lion King” national tour), documentary producer Susan Gandy, Broadway actor Henry Stram, film and television actor Arliss Howard, Broadway, film and TV art director Harry Silverglat Darrow, local film and theatre critic Russ Simmons, Patrick Lewallen (national tour of “Rock of Ages”) and Lynn Cohen (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”).
The greatest management challenge is to assure that all Barn productions are of a consistent high quality. Last year, we had 402 people audition for nine different productions. Each show is unique in its cast, crew, staff, script, props, sets, lighting, sound, etc. Managing all of this is a challenge, yet great opportunity for our Artistic Director, Assistant Artistic Director and the board as a whole. Our Artistic Director, a drama teacher during the day, is one of the most well organized persons you will ever meet and juggles all of these people, productions, and elements amazingly well. The board and the over 150 active volunteers help with front of house duties and other behind-the-scenes support. This job of managing these productions is even more difficult in some respects because we do not want to retain the same directors year after year. In 2015 we had 15 applicants for five directorial positions. When we select our directors we are looking for imagination, vision, and excellence. Because of our dedication to ambitious and gutsy productions, we have been able to attract many new directors and actors. While this is precisely our goal, it does add challenges to our management. Our Production Manual to which every director, cast and crew must adhere helps to keep our productions organized, on budget, and has brought consistency to each production without sacrificing originality and creativity. While management issues never go away and every theater has these challenges, we believe that the success of our productions show that we are addressing this challenge in imaginative and successful ways. Our success in addressing these complex issues is borne out by the awards we received from BroadwayWorld.com, including Outstanding Theater of the Year in the Kansas City Region, and The Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award as well as numerous other individual awards for our actors and directors.
The search for our new home and the funding for our move in 2018 is our main challenge while continuing to produce our final two seasons in our current location. This move may also necessitate the formation of a Capital Campaign.
Indirect Public Support HelpIndirect public support represents revenue received through solicitation campaigns. This includes funding United Way and other federated fundraising organizations, but does not include donor designated contributions.
Earned Revenue HelpEarned revenue represents income generated in direct exchange for a product or service.Earned income includes income from government contracts.
There are two primary financial challenges facing The Barn: determining our future location and the financial obligation we will need for our move and our future and increasing donations and grant funding. We are making good success in increasing our audience size and believe our path to a larger audience lies in maintaining our great quality, increasing diversity, and smart show selection. When selecting our shows for the season, we begin by focusing on what actors want to act in and directors want to direct, and, most importantly, what audiences want to see. This means that we must select a wide diversity of theatrical productions: comedies and dramas, new and classics, cutting edge and familiar. Some of the questions we ask ourselves are: Is the play good (really good)? Does it have a track record of success? Will our audience love it? Does it meet our need for diversity? In addition to answering these and other questions, we consider the numbers of men and women in each production, the subject matter and the vibrancy of the material. That way we can balance our season with exciting productions that will attract a large diverse audience. Our other challenge to increase donations and grant funding, dovetails with our show selection. Our recent successes with our shows will help show the donor community that we are worth taking a chance on. The Barn has been around for 61 years, so we have proven our place in the Kansas City theater community. The fact that we can remain relevant in today’s society, shows that we are doing something right. Everyone on the board is charged with keeping at least one eye on fund-raising opportunities. We are always on the lookout for community partnerships and creative types of fundraising to bring in new supporters of community theater. I am specifically charged with grant writing. The couple of grants we received last year show that we are a worthwhile cause and have bolstered our confidence that we can obtain the funding we need. In addition to our more complex productions, we deal with the wear and tear on the equipment we use and upkeep on our building. These areas do receive special attention in our budget. The reason for the difference in our 2016 Expenses and Income was due to projects to the building as part of our lease agreement including a $16,000 AC unit, fire egress and exterior work.
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